Pulling the plug for the Kindle? And how to price eBooks? Or, it’s the audience, stupid.
March 5, 2009 by ruediger

It is just amazing how a really big organization like Amazon in less then 2 weeks makes an about face in their strategy for their arguably most ambitious strategic project, the Kindle.

After doing everything and a bit to roll out a radically proprietary machine, closing it like a can of Campell’s tomato soup to avoid piracy, and sharing of content, or allow any other players to put their fingers into the matter, they make a contrary statement, without blushing, saying that funny word: Oh, we discovered that there are a number of folks out there who perhaps won’t buy a Kindle, but who have a phone and who want to read e-Books as well. Sorry guys, we forgot about you initially, but right, why wouldn’t you continue to spend your reading money on Amazon.com. So welcome, and here is our reading software, help yourself.

The 2 simple things about (printed) books are that we got used to read wherever and however we want; and we like to pass that book to our friends and colleagues. Both of which e-Books so far tried hard to boycott – and therefore failed.

Bringing the books to your phone is quite another story.

But then, at what price?

Amazon already set their benchmark at $ 9.99 – while many publishers, notably in Europe, started to struggle for e-Books to be priced just as printed books.

A friend pointed me to the Apple iTunes store which I had not explored so far for books. In some aspects it is still weird, as the iTunes store indexes books like “Music style: Book” – hinting that books only start to pop up on their radar screen, but they do come up.

They offer many freebies or cheapies, and the most popular, at least in Germany – you would never have guessed – are Karl Marx, followed by Goethe (oops) and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” (the Bible, in English though, is only #6).

The really interesting thing however is pricing, plus the fact that some publishers started already to experiment with *cool* community driven backlist titles that are still under copyright. Karl Marx (who is free already, is priced at € 0,79, like Goethe). More relevant are probably recent titles by living and therefore copyrighted authors. I found a brand new eBook version, released on Feb 9, 2009, of Gerhard Polt: Hundskrüppel (Polt is a “cult” author and popular comedian in Germany) at € 3.99. The same title is offered at the Amazon online bookstore as an audio CD at € 16.90, as a hardcover book at € 12.90, and as a paperback at €7.00.

Perhaps even more important is still another element illustrated by the iTunes store: Whoever is used to this iTunes environment takes it for a given that music videos, podcasts, audiobooks and now books are integrated into one realm, one pattern of *culture ware* (or stuff that I want to hear/read/watch), and the boundaries between say music and the word or the pictures have already blurred.

The book arrives here as a late, yet highly honorable guest at this party, and will certainly get integrated fast, but as just another format between all the many others. So the singularity, the uniqueness of the book will be gone – well, not really, I assume, because there are good reasons for the book to be considered as something special, as I have argued recently. But it is going to be interesting how things evolves.

Jason Epstein, only a couple of weeks ago at the O’Reilly Tools of Change” conference, had this wonderful metaphor for what is going on right now, before our eyes:

“Like blind men in a room with an elephant, we cannot begin to imagine the eventual consequences as digitization and the Internet ignite a worldwide Cultural Revolution orders of magnitude greater than Gutenberg’s inadvertent implementation of western civilization.”

I guess it is a big elephant indeed.

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